Ten years ago, in late September of 2001, I was still blissfully unaware of that any of my work was being plagiarized. I gave hardly a thought to copyright, at least as it pertained to my content, and certainly didn’t take any interest in monitoring my work.
It would be six more months before I would discover my first case of plagiarism and then embark on my “summer of plagiarism” that would be my first crash course in the matter. It would be yet another three years before I would start Plagiarism Today.
Often times I wonder how things might have turned out differently if I knew back in late 2001 what I know now. There’s a lot of knowledge I could have used and, if I’d had it, what turned out to be a significant problem (and in many ways a life-changing event) could have been a much smaller ordeal.
So, with that in mind, here are the seven things I wish I knew about content theft 10 years ago, before it hit the fan.
1. How Pervasive Content Theft/Misuse Is
If you had told me 10 years ago that I would eventually stop nearly 1,000 cases of plagiarism of my writing, on top of the work I’ve done for others, I probably would have laughed at you.
I had no idea just how common plagiarism and content theft was back then, especially for someone writing poetry and other short prose that was routinely targeted.
Whether it was naivete about human nature or just simply not thinking about the issue, I had no idea the scope of the problem I was facing. That, more than anything, let it grow to a tremendous size under my nose.
2. That Most Cases Are Easy to Resolve
Though taking law and ethics in journalism gave me a decent primer on copyright law, I had to take a crash course in the DMCA in order to get many cases resolved. I learned fast, but dealing with plagiarism was frustrating at first without a good grasp of the law. While I failed at many of my first cases, I was able to resolve most of them later with better, more effective approaches.
That being said, most cases are easily resolved. Usually by contacting the infringer with a stern, but polite, warning. For the few that aren’t so easily fixed, the law is favorable for getting infringing content removed.
Usually, it shouldn’t take longer than 20-25 minutes to resolve a unique case and it is much, much less once you’re more experienced.
3. Some People Are Truly Insane
Though most plagiarists were apologetic or at least willing to remove the content, some were clearly living in a fantasy world where not only did they write the content but I was the one plagiarizing them. These kinds of plagiarism cases can get downright frightening.
Though they are extremely rare, but I was utterly unprepared for this kind of conflict at first.
4. Others Are Just Idiots
But even the ones who aren’t crazy are often times still dangerous. There are a lot of people out there who have gotten a lot of bad copyright advice over the years.
Many seem to think simply screaming “fair use” makes even plagiarism acceptable while others think that everything online is copyright-free.
These cases are usually easy to set right, but they can be generate more than a few facepalms along the way.
5. Content Tracking is an Art
Though tracking text is much easier than tracking images, audio, video, etc. It’s still very much an art.
First, there are no perfect systems for matching text. As impartial plagiarism checker tests constantly reveal, there are always errors and imperfections.
More importantly though, many plagiarists make an effort to rewrite their source material, sometimes hiding it to the point that traditional text detection struggles to find it. Content tracking is often as much about intuition as it is technology. It is about knowing your work and being able to pick up on it even when it’s been changed around a bit.
6. Google is Your Friend, Google is Your Enemy
Google is a double-edged sword in these matters. Though, on one hand, it makes it easier to find infringing content, the fact Google often trusts plagiarized content over original material is a vital part of why these issues are as urgent as they are.
Also, Google has a long history of interfering with the DMCA process and, though it has undoubtedly improved, it can still be a time-consuming pain to file even the most obvious takedown request with Google.
7. Sometimes You Have to Walk Away
When dealing with plagiarism, it’s easy to let your emotions get the better of you but, sometimes, you just have to walk away.
Occasionally, you just can’t resolve the case. Whether the site is hosted in a foreign country, has an uncooperative host or something else is interfering. These cases are rare, usually less than 1%, but they can take up more than 50% of your time if you don’t know when to drop them.
Make peace with imperfection and you’ll spend a lot less time dealing with these issues.
Looking back on the past 10 years, I can’t decide if I would describe my time as a long journey or the blink of an eye. It seems to be both at the same time.
Either way, it’s a lot of time to learn a great deal about preventing, tracking and stopping plagiarism. Information I’m happy to put to use both on this site and for my clients of my consulting services.
In the end, there’s been no school for me to go to for this and, prior to Plagiarism Today, there wasn’t even a site that talked about it at great length. I had to learn a lot of this as I went.
Still, I wonder if things might have turned out differently if I had known all of this ten or more years ago and what that might have meant for my life, this site and possibly plagiarism in general.